Found a pot of carrots at the end of my rainbow

I like to tell kids to eat a rainbow. That is the Aubergine part of the rainbow right through to the Zucchini green part. My feeling is that most kids are limited to a vegetable palate of mainly potatoes and peas, and sometimes not even those. I hear so many kids saying ” I won’t eat that and I won’t try that!”  Yet there has never been so much food around and available to us (in the developed world anyway) but are we making the most of all that bounty? I would say, a big fat NOT!

Quite a bit of what is on offer, is pretty bad, especially that from vending machines and fast food joints and you can be sure anything said to be ‘kids food’ is probably the worst.  But there’s a whole world of gorgeous food out there which is good for us, particularly at this time of the year. I visited our local organic market yesterday and here’s what I got for the week ahead. It was glowing with colour and made me happy to the bottom of my heart. I took a quick photo as you can see and then sat down to think about what I would make with it.

Looks like soft spring rolls and corn fritters please!

Those of you who know how I cook will know I like to chuck in various ingredients and cross my fingers, hoping for the best.  I call this process ‘experimentation’ and 9 times out of 10 it does work. Every meal/recipe/sandwich requires a balance of sweet, salty, and even sour (unami) to make it shine with taste. For instance I oven bake tomatoes at least twice a week  to use in sauces, and casseroles. I spray the oven dish with olive oil, add a sprig of rosemary, some peppercorns/sea salt and cloves of garlic. Without the salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic, the tomatoes would taste probably quite bearable but with the addition of those few simple ingredients the taste becomes more complex and way more delicious. A gorgeous cookbook by Laura Santtini called Flash Cooking brings this mantra together in a prefect way. Laura, clearly a fan of Michael Pollan of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” fame, and has developed a simple, flavour bomb of what she calls Rubinades, pastes, finishing salts and yoghurts  – after dabbling in a few of her recipes I think she has it exactly right. Watch out Jamie Oliver, she might just eclipse you. Check her website on http://www.laurasanttini.com  Mmmm!

Anyway on to my humble recipe which I suggest would make a good school snack with a dipping sauce (such as the roasted tomatoes blended or an asian style dressing). This is an indian Pakora recipe really which should work with pretty well any left-over veggies. I used Rice Bran oil to fry with, straining it and re-using for Tempura another day. I don’t tend to do too much deep frying but this fritter/pakora batter is very useful for using up left-overs while being rather moreish.

Corn and Tofu fritters

left-over cooked corn on the cob (I had two cobs) cut off the husk with a sharp knife

half a cup of tofu, chopped into small cubes (this was left over from my soft spring rolls)

some left-over cooked peas

half a cup of herbs chopped finely – I used mint, coriander, holy basil and chives

1 clove of minced garlic, fried with a finely chopped red onion. Can use raw grated onion as well.

1 cup of chick pea flour, often called Gram Flour

half a teaspoon of salt (see tasting note)

half a teaspoon of pataks curry paste or some Thai chilli sauce/finely chopped red chilli if you like it spicy

half a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds

1 egg beaten.

Place in a bowl, mix and add a little lukewarm water if you think too dry. The mixture should be firm enough to mould in your hands and drop into the hot oil.

Warm the rice bran (or other) on the stove-top. Test for the right heat by placing a chopstick in the oil to see if the oil sizzles around it. When it does, the oil is hot enough. Have ready paper towels in a bowl to drain the fitters on. Fry one and turn with the chop-sticks when it is golden brown on one side. Taste the first one to see if you have the right balance of seasonings, and herbs. Hey presto, you’ve got yourself some fritters for later. Serve with a greek yoghurt mixed the zest of a lemon and some juice, chopped mint leaves and a little mango chutney or a dressing of lemon juice, chopped mint, parsley, coriander, some runny honey and a squeeze of ginger.

You could use grated sweet potatoes, carrot etc as well – just experiment a little and have fun.

Bottom of the Fridge cooking

I do like to look at my fridge everyday and work out what needs to be used up and base our meals around that. Sometimes I do find something rather unpleasant at the back of the fridge and this can make me feel guilty for days as I hate waste! I really am noticing a hefty increase in my food bill so I intend to absolutely use up everything I buy or grow. A great way to use up veggies that have seen better days is to char grill them and put into lentil or grain salads. My current favourite way to use them up, is to add them to quinoa, giant couscous and bulgar salads. This includes slow roasting slightly “has been” tomatoes etc.

I’m not sure about you but I always in a rush, taking kids here and there for sports fixtures, shopping for food and trying to get some writing done in between so I am opting for quick fixes that everyone (OK, just about everyone), likes. For me those quick fixes have to be healthy fixes as well. My quick fixes are the chick pea curry soup, the red lentil Mexican soup, and my grain salads.

Quinoa has been hard to sell to my family but it is worth persevering with as it has omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, oleic acids, calcium,  and loads of other good stuff. It isn’t actually a cereal at all but comes from the same food family as that as chards, spinach and beets. It has quite a distinctive flavour, slight nutty, slightly bitter at times but it comes into its own I think when added to grains  or used with chick peas etc (see June’s post). I always add a sweet flavour with pomergranate seeds, some chutney or dried cranberries. It’s simple to cook – place some lemon infused olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, throw in your grains and quinoa, toast gently for a few seconds and then add enough water to cover everything. Add in a veggie stock cube crumbling it into the water. Alternatively add in a knob of ginger and a quarter of raw onion to bring flavour. Stay by the pan, tasting and adding more water if needed. It should be ready in about 10 minutes, the couscous and bulgar will be soft, the quinoa still slightly crunchy and you are ready to use it in whichever way you please.

Lastly, a great discovery thank to my friend Phillipa in New Zealand – a stunning blog with gluten and lactose free recipes http://www.mydarlinglemonthyme.com   The story behind why it is called My Darling Lemon Thyme is a lovely one and I am sure you will enjoy it.  As usual I must fly…. enjoy!

In our lunch boxes last week, we had some of the quinoa cookies from My Darling lemon Thyme, quorn cottage pie, red lentil soup, udon noodles and wok fried veggies, dried apples and home grown pears!

Yep, we’re are making those school lunches again! Soggy Sandwiches, humble pie and squishy fruit!

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I’ve been chatting to the odd mum and dad over the holidays, who say they get a sinking feeling about making school lunches. They do their best (at some hideous hour in the morning) to put together a snack and lunch only to find a returned soggy sandwich in the lunchbox at the end of the day. Or their lovely little creatures  might just say “I wanted the ….. and you gave me the …..! Or I didn’t have time to eat it…..

Shame on you, you dreadful parent. It’s your fault they didn’t eat their lunch. NOT!  I am willing to bet you are giving your utmost especially at that time in the morning and our darlings should appreciate you big time. I do. Give yourself a gentle pat on the back and make them part of the solution. It took me a while to realize that some my creations (shock, horror) were perhaps not quite as delightful as I thought they were according to my greatest critics – my kids. So, I made an extra one or two wraps, bagels, pasta salads, etc and tried them out myself. Those kids were right, the wrap was a tad soggy, the bagel filling was a little tasteless, the peach had started to go bad. So I ate a bit of humble pie, which leads us right into this post and the joy of continuous learning. Hopefully my upcoming recipes and tips will stop you falling into a quagmire (don’t you just love that word) of bad baps, sogginess, muddy flavours and lifeless lunchboxes.

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Tips

Tip no. 1 – if they don’t eat your lunches, suggest they may just like to get up earlier and make them. They will probably decide suddenly that you are the best lunch maker in town.

Tip no. 2 – Ask them what they want ( within reason and excluding chocolate, processed cookies, juice drinks (or worse!), crisps etc). By the way I am not ruling out homemade cookies using an alternative to sugar but I am suggesting that crisps, pop-tarts, iced biscuits and so-called juice drinks are not very helpful to your child’s nutritional needs.

Remind them that food is their fuel and it’s meant to keep their minds ticking over, the bodies in full throttle and they energy levels at an even balance. They need a good balance of different foods, particularly those of a low GL or Glycemic Load (spreading the energy load for longer). They need some protein, some good carbs, good fats and fibre-rich vegetables and fruits. Water is just great by the way and we need a good amount of it all through the day (imagine how much you will save money not buying juices and just by filling their water bottle).

Tip no. 3 – Test out a smidgen of your child’s lunch ( have a portion for lunch or afternoon tea) and see what it’s are like after a few hours in a warm environment. You may want to consider buying a gel salad container, or a better thermos or some small freezer pads. Check the internet for the best types of containers.

Tip no. 4 – Make you child part of the equation, yes, and share the knowledge. Food is expensive, good honest, organic food is even more expensive. The crop failure this season and last season will see a sharp increase in food prices around the world. Make your child understand that their lunch is a special treat to be valued. It has been made with a few yawns and much love. I will be looking at creating some fine, frugal dishes this school year to share with you all.

Tip no. 5 – Make it as colourful, and as beautiful as can be. Celebrate that lunch, and thank yourself for making it. It should be a treasure trove of good, delicious food.  OK, I know we are not talking haute cuisine here (see pic below of a salad made by my current favourite restaurant De Kas in Amsterdam for an example of fine, honest, arty food) but  by using the best containers and the right foods, your school lunch be something akin to a prefect picnic for body and mind.  By the way, Isn’t it just beautiful that salad – and it tasted just as good. But I digress!

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This is what we have been putting in our lunch boxes this week.

Snack – greek yoghurt with fresh raspberry sauce and an oatie cereal combo!

Snack – dried mango, banana, a spelt flour pinwheel scone and butter with Eva’s homemade raspberry jam (thanks Eva)

Snack  – separate small containers of blueberries, plums, watermelon chunks in a cooled thermos

Lunches – Jack requested his current favourites – toasted wholewheat bagel with smoked salmon, chives, lettuce and cream cheese or with paper thin prosciutto, with boiled egg, lettuce and sliced tomato.

Wholewheat pasta with pesto, peas and parmesan. We served all the lunches with locally grown organic apples and fresh clear water. Those lucky kids!!!

One of the food bloggers that I follow is The Botanical Baker. She does a lovely blog with gorgeous recipes at  http://thebotanicalbaker.wordpress.com

This month she is supporting the UK’s Better Breakfast Week (Sept  24 – 30), a great initiative which is asking for your ideas for fruity breakfast inspiration. Me, I adore breakfast and have been heard to say on more than one occasion “that it is the best meal of the day and surely the most important”. I leave you with a pic of our home-made cereal: dehydrated raspberries, hazelnuts, almonds, apricots, oats and dried cranberries, yumo!Image

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